Fungus Apocalypse? New Study Confirms Possible Dangerous Adaptation of Fungal Pathogens to Rising Temperatures

Fungus Apocalypse? New Study Confirms Possible Dangerous Adaptation of Fungal Pathogens to Rising Temperatures

You will be acquainted with the concept of a mutant fungus spreading most of mankind if you have played the video game The Last of Us or seen any of the recent TV adaptations of the game. There is now some science to match up with that science fiction, though.

Researchers have shown how pathogenic fungus might develop in a rising environment to better resist the heat inside of human bodies. While we aren’t nearly on the verge of a societal catastrophe like the one shown in The Last of Us, this is a possibility that has been proved by the researchers.

Given that it is the heat that does the majority of the job of protecting us against these threats, the implication is that these pathogens might become a greater threat in terms of disease as they adapt to a planet that is consistently getting hotter. This could have serious implications for public health.

Researchers took a close look at a dangerous fungus known as Cryptococcus deneoformans by studying it in the laboratory at temperatures ranging from 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) to 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The fungi’s genomic landscape underwent major alterations as a result of these thermal stressors.

In particular, there was greater movement among the so-called “jumping genes,” which are transposable elements inside DNA that may change location in the genome. In fact, there was five times as much movement at the higher temperature as there was at the lower temperature. Despite the fact that these transposable elements do not directly produce proteins, they are nevertheless capable of influencing the functioning of other genes.

T1, Tcn12, and Cnl1 were singled out as the jumping genes that were specifically monitored. The changes that they produced inside genes and the genome revealed that they may be modifying the way that genes were coded, which might lead to the development of resistance to drugs. It is not really apparent at this point what the ultimate outcome of all of this increased activity could be.

In subsequent experiments, mice were used, which revealed that the activity of the transposable elements was much heightened in this species. The investigators believe that the movement may be caused by the fact that they are seeing it while within an animal, which triggers the animal’s immunological response as well as other processes.

Inside barely 10 days of the mouse being infected, researchers discovered evidence that all three transposable elements had mobilized within the genome of the fungus. It is expected that these mobile parts will help to adaptability both in the environment and when an infection is taking place. Because exposure to high temperatures accelerates the rate at which mutations arise, this might take place much more quickly.

The study is still in its preliminary phases, and it does not include any real people at this point. Therefore, it is premature to begin construction on an underground bunker. In addition, fungal spores are often far bigger than virus particles, which means that preventative measures like wearing a face mask will be more effective against them.

The findings of the study indicate that higher temperatures cause C. deneoformans to undergo genetic alterations at a more rapid rate. As temperatures throughout the world continue to rise, the most important message is that potentially harmful fungus may be changing far more rapidly than we had previously assumed.

The next step is to do research on the pathogens found in patients who have had a recurrence of their fungal illness. There are already hundreds of thousands of deaths each year attributed to infections like this one, but at the moment, the only individuals at danger are those with severely damaged immune systems.

Anna Daniels

Anna is an avid blogger with an educational background in medicine and mental health. She is a generalist with many other interests including nutrition, women's health, astronomy and photography. In her free time from work and writing, Anna enjoys nature walks, reading, and listening to jazz and classical music.

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